Chef John Moeller has built his career on cooking food fit for presidents.
Moeller worked as a White House chef for three presidents – George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush – and has now published a book, “Dining at the White House,” that weaves together his stories of working for the first families with the recipes of some of his standout White House dishes.
Cooking chocolate tortes during an interview with “Politics Confidential,” Moeller recalled arriving at the White House for his first day on the job under President George H.W. Bush.
“I had a big tool box loaded up there, and when I came in the guys opened it up -- I didn't have my chef uniform on -- and they go 'wow, lots of knives here,’ the Secret Service guys,” Moeller said. “And they go, ‘Oh, we knew you were coming.’”
Moeller worked in the first Bush White House for only a matter of months, but during that time, he said he developed a strong rapport with the president and that it was hard to say goodbye as they prepared to welcome the Clintons as the next first family.
“He walked into the State Dining room, all of us were in there,” Moeller said. “His head just dropped down, and he just said, 'you know, of all the goodbyes I had to say, this was going to be the toughest one, to all of the people who have taken care of us the last four years, and we just can’t, we can’t say thanks enough.’ There wasn't dry eye in the whole place.”
With the arrival of the Clintons, and their teenage daughter Chelsea, Moeller said that it took some time for the cooking staff to adjust to the likes and dislikes of the new first family.
A hard lesson came early on, when one of the chefs planned a meal of fried chicken and dumplings for the Southern family.
“We don't eat that stuff,” Moeller recalled of then-first lady Hillary Clinton’s reaction to the meal of comfort food.
Serving dinner to the first families over the years, Moeller got an up-close view of the first families’ personal lives through difficult times, including the impeachment of President Clinton and the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“We always made it like a home upstairs,” Moeller said. “And we'd just make it as comfortable as possible. You'd never see me talk about politics with them.”
And he said it wasn’t hard to gauge when the president was having a bad day.
“Absolutely, and I mean Sept. 11 was the biggest one,” he said. “I just remember we were up in the second floor kitchen getting ready to serve dinner and one butler had -- there was a small TV there -- and he had it on the news. And they were talking about the tragedy of everything. And President Bush came back and just said, ‘Just turn that stuff off.’”
For more of Chef Moeller’s stories from working inside the White House, including details about the White House’s wine cellar, check out this episode of “Politics Confidential.”
ABC News’ Alexandra Dukakis, Patrick O’Gara, John Bullard and Vicki Vennell contributed to this episode.
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